September 6, 2023

An Epic American Success Story

Jane Wilf Centennial Chair

Why are we celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ? Why does it matter?

Ours is a story of hard-working immigrants, savvy leaders, struggle and triumph, expansion, philanthropy, learning, family, history, connections, values, and journeys. And it’s a source of celebration for every person who cares about Jewish life in our community.

According to the National Humanities Center, there were about 1 million Jews in the U.S. at the turn of the century and between 1900 and 1924, an additional 1.75 million would arrive. When you imagine what life was like for Jewish people in our area in 1923, it was a very different picture than now. Jewish life at that time was concentrated in the small cities – Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson. Most of the immigrants coming from Eastern Europe around the turn of the century arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, and perhaps a few family heirlooms and a slip of paper with the name and address of a relative or neighbor from the old country.

But by the 1910s and 20s these newcomers had begun to recreate some of the communal infrastructure they relied on at home. They built synagogues, buried their dead in Jewish cemeteries, and eventually began to establish institutions and an infrastructure, started businesses, and planted their roots. They not only survived but thrived. They built new lives in a new world without ever forgetting who they were or where they came from.

In 1923 in Newark, a group of forward-thinking business leaders saw the need to organize all the Jewish service agencies under one umbrella organization, with one fundraising function. They called it the Conference of Jewish Charities – what would become the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). This truly was a groundbreaking endeavor that would set the stage for what we know now as the Greater MetroWest Jewish community. By combining efforts, unifying the message, and meeting the needs of its constituents, they created a place where all Jewish people could feel safe and comfortable living a Jewish life, however they chose to do so, and it was truly a model Jewish community.

As the Jewish population migrated from the city centers to the surrounding suburbs, three unique Federations were established over time to serve as the heart of the Jewish communities in Essex, Morris and Sussex, and Central NJ. Each organization followed the same principal of raising money and allocating it as needed, advocating for our unified concerns, fighting antisemitism, supporting a pluralistic Israel, welcoming new immigrants, convening community leaders, inspiring and educating young leaders, building relationships across religions, responding to crises around the world, and whatever specific needs would arise.

Eventually our Federations merged into one, bringing together diverse communities in towns across five counties into one of the largest, most innovative and highly respected Federations in North America.

Federation does so much! And the scope of the work continues to astonish me despite my long-time involvement.

At every stage of your life, Federation has a hand.

If you belong to a synagogue, Federation is there providing support and making the building more secure. If you send your kids to pre-school, day school, or camp, Federation makes it more affordable. If you’re new to the community, Federation will welcome you with open arms and introduce you to your new neighbors. If you require support services, Federation will connect you with the partner agency that can meet your needs. If you seek to give back, Federation offers countless ways to volunteer, share your support, and help bring strength to our community locally and around the world. If you are a Jewish person in Greater MetroWest, are married to a Jewish person, care about a Jewish person, Federation is there, making your life better, ensuring you’re cared for, supporting your community and the institutions you rely on.

It’s an epic American success story 100 years in the making… and the direction the story takes over the next 100 years is up to each of us. It’s truly something to be proud of – and it’s definitely a reason to celebrate!

We began the centennial celebration with a 500-person-strong mission to Israel in July and will continue the festivities with our Centennial Opening Event featuring the performers from the Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish on October 11. It promises to be an unforgettable evening that you won’t want to miss! To learn more about our centennial year celebrations, visit us at I can’t wait to celebrate with you on October 11 and all year long!